Scholarship Recipient Pays it Forward
“If you make people feel like they have a place at the table, they’ll be more likely to want to sit at the table. And sitting at the table broadens the discussion and gives them — and those around them — the opportunity to make an impact.”
This is Gwen Heimerdinger’s basic life philosophy.
Naturally gregarious and full of energy, Heimerdinger can immediately identify others who may feel uncomfortable and out of place. She instantly sets out to make a connection — whether she’s working on her family’s farm, participating in agriculture organizations or learning alongside others in a classroom.
Heimerdinger’s desire to help people from all backgrounds work together is only matched by her passion for agriculture. The Compeer Financial Fund for Rural America scholarship recipient currently is in her final year at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where she’s majoring in agricultural leadership, education and communications with a concentration in agricultural education.
Her plans after college? To work as an educator, advocate and producer in the ag industry.
Heimerdinger used to laugh when people told her she should be an ag teacher. “Why would I want to do that?” she would say to herself. Now, looking back at her leadership, educational and developmental experiences prior to and during college, she can see how her past led the way to her future ambitions.
She calls the small town of Loran, Ill., outside of Pearl City, home. Loran is a place where people plant deep roots in their fields, families and neighbors. She grew up on a 100-cow dairy farm, with a growing beef herd and diversified crops, where her family’s lifestyle was different than that of the students she would eventually meet on the college campus or streets of Champaign, Ill.
“For me, like for most farm kids, there were no vacations from chores,” Heimerdinger said. “Mornings included feeding calves before school. Long summer days were spent doing field work. Winters meant you better bundle up before hitting the barn.”
But she wouldn’t have it any other way. “The farm planted a seed for my interest in agriculture."
As she considers the future and what’s ahead for her, Heimerdinger is excited to become more embedded in the agriculture industry. “Being a part of a larger ag community has really influenced my view,” she said. “From large companies to individuals, people in ag are always willing to support one another to build a better future for the industry.”
Compeer’s Fund for Rural America scholarship program is one example. Heimerdinger is among the recipients of nearly 400 scholarships awarded since 2018, all focused on furthering their interests in agriculture-related fields. She recalled the time she had the opportunity to help Compeer show farmers in her community that they’re appreciated.
“In junior high, I volunteered to help pass out harvest meals at the elevator,” she said, referring to an annual tradition for financial officers and other Compeer team members. “It had nothing to do with financing. It was just a really positive and tangible way to acknowledge the hard work and long hours [they] were putting into the field.”
Heimerdinger is ready to become even more a part of the generous spirit that’s alive and well across agriculture’s circles. “My hope is to take what I’ve been given and pay it forward,” she noted. “I want to teach students to consider beyond what they see in agriculture and create an environment where students feel they are on a voyage of learning through discovering, inventing, failing and succeeding in all things agriculture.
“The more I learn and the more people I connect with,” she continued, “the more excited I become. And I think, ‘this is the job for me.’”
This article was originally printed in the Winter 2022 edition of Compeer Financial's Cultivate magazine.